Interview with writer Bo Kearns


Writer Bo Kearns is here today to chat about his
new novel, Ashes in a Coconut.
Bo Kearns
is a journalist, writer of fiction and author of Ashes in a Coconut. He’s a feature writer with NorthBay
magazine and the Sonoma Index-Tribune newspaper. His short stories have won awards—First
Prize, Napa Valley College writing contest, Honorable Mention-Glimmer Train Fiction
Open competition, and Finalist- Redwood Writers On the Edge genre competition.
Other works have been published in the annual California Writers Club
Literary Review
, Napa Valley Writers First Press, The Red Wheelbarrow
Literary Magazine
and Sonoma: Stories of a Region and Its People.
He’s a certified UC Naturalist, beekeeper, avid hiker and active supporter of
conservation causes. Bo lives in the wine country of Sonoma with his wife and
rescue dog, Jake.
Welcome, Bo. Please tell us about your
current release.
In 1983, Laura Harrison, Manhattan fashion
designer, sets aside her career to accompany her banker husband, Jack, to
Indonesia, to save her marriage. On arrival they come across a funeral ceremony
that sets the tone for much of their welcome to the country. Laura experiences
a wave of unease and haunting premonitions.
Jack is ambitious and eager to make his mark but
doesn’t know how to handle the corrupt world of Indonesian business. Soon he
becomes trapped in a shady deal and a web of deceit. At the local market, Laura
discovers an orphaned baby orangutan for sale. Her heart goes out to the poor
creature and she finds her new passion—saving the endangered primates and their
Jack decides to finance a logging project in the
rainforest putting their lives and their marriage in jeopardy. Suddenly Laura’s
premonitions don’t seem so farfetched.
What inspired you to write this book?
I lived in Indonesia
for three years. There I became intrigued with the country’s unique culture of
mysticism and magic. Graham Greene is one of my favorite authors. In his
novels, he puts an expat in an exotic setting and weaves a story of intrigue
around their attempt to adapt. Ashes in a
is similar to that.
As an expat
woman, Laura can’t work and has to find something meaningful to do. She’s
representative of many expat women who find themselves in that situation. Jack,
a banker, has to contend with local corruption. I was an expat for ten years. I
experienced or observed what happens in the story, enhanced with much
Excerpt from Ashes in a Coconut:
In the
blistering noonday sun, Laura Harrison stood outside the Denpasar International
Airport and fingered the beads on her necklace. Her damp silk blouse clung to
her body. In the humidity her red hair curled so that she resembled an adult
Little Orphan Annie. She fanned her face wishing she’d worn a wide-brimmed
straw hat. And yet she shouldn’t have minded the discomfort; she was in Bali.
Still, she fretted. The island paradise was only a stopover en route to
Jakarta. There she would be beginning a new life in a place she’d never been,
leaving everything behind to save her marriage.
Her husband,
tall and broad-shouldered, stood beside her. He wore a tropical shirt and
exuded confidence.
“Jack, can you
hail a cab—preferably one with air conditioning.”
“Good luck with
that,” he said.
Before he could
raise his hand, a taxi with the car widows rolled down, pulled up to the curb.
Laura grimaced as they climbed in. With their bags in the trunk, they made
their way through narrow streets; discreet shrines graced with small floral
offerings dotted the roadside. In the distance, young green rice paddies
terraced the mountain. After a half hour they arrived at the Seminyak Kebun
Resort where a vast manicured lawn and swaying palm trees welcomed them.
beautiful!” Laura said. Her spirits rose. “The perfect place for a second
Jack smiled and
took her hand.
The couple
walked into the large open-air lobby. At the registration desk Laura noticed
blossoms in a small woven palm-leaf tray. She picked one up and inhaled the
“It’s an
offering to keep away evil spirits,” the clerk said.
“Oh,” Laura
exclaimed. She set the flower down and moved away.
Laura and Jack
followed the bellboy to a thatched-roof bungalow that fronted onto a tranquil
beach. Inside a four-poster bed covered with mosquito netting dominated the
room. Paintings of colorful birds hung on the walls.
Laura walked
around admiring, touching. The bathroom, open to the sky, was outside in a
small garden. White and purple orchids proliferated, and a showerhead shaped
like a dolphin extended from the rock wall. Then Laura noticed movement off to
the side. A hammock swung though the air was perfectly still. She got goose
bumps watching it. Hugging her arms across her chest, she rushed inside.
What exciting story are you working on
I’m working
on several projects. I’ve written a number of short stories about a retired,
hapless guy named Norman. He’s still experiencing life. He’s like an older
Holden Caulfield. He attracts the offbeat. Norman’s a character of humor and
complexity. I’m considering a collection of Norman stories. The next novel is
never far from my mind. Interesting settings play a part in my writing. I’m
thinking of a story set in the backwaters and bayous of Louisiana. And writing
for a newspaper and magazine keeps me plenty busy. I never know what the next
article will bring.
When did you first consider yourself a
I came to
writing late in life. Growing up I attended parochial schools and military
academies with little exposure to literature. There rote reading consisted of
catechism and sagas of famous battles. My daughter benefited from a broader
education. In her high school English class she studied the classics. The Catcher
in the Rye
was one of those. One morning, I spotted Catcher on the kitchen
table. Curious, I picked it up and flipped through the pages. I sat down and
began to read, quickly taken by the honesty of the opening line. “….the first
thing you’ll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy
childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had
me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap….” Never before had a novel so
captured my imagination and my emotions. Previously I hadn’t given much thought
to writing. Now I wanted to emulate J.D. Salinger. I wanted to do what he did.
So I began to write. When an early short story won an award, I began to think
of myself as a writer.
Do you write full-time? If so, what's
your work day like? If not, what do you do other than write and how do you find
time to write?
I write in
the mornings when my brain is more alert and I’m feeling creative. I work at a
stand up desk. Occasionally I take a break, go outside and look to nature for
inspiration. By noon I’ve hit a wall. Any writing after that will have to be
redone. If it’s a nice day, I’ll go for a hike in nearby, historic Jack London
State Park. Jack passed way at the age of forty after having written 50 books.
I have 49 more to go.
What would you say is your interesting
writing quirk?
Not sure if you’d
call it interesting— odd perhaps. When I’m alone, my mind keeps writing. And sometimes
that happens when I’m with others. I space out thinking of characters and plot
lines. At the dinner table, my wife will give me a nudge and say, “You’re
writing again.”
As a child, what did you want to be when
you grew up?
I wanted to
be a rancher. I wanted to work outdoors. Just as well that didn’t happen.
Horses don’t take well to me. And being a rancher’s not the glamorous life
portrayed in the movies. Fortunately I ended up as a fiction writer where I can
imagine being on a horse and not have to worry about falling off.
Thanks for being here today, Bo.

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